Carnival Fantasy — Cruising Along On A Rocking Ship!


Hello Readers, and Carnival Fantasy:

Yesterday, I reported briefly about the first bitterly cold day of our cruise. Although it was cold, Phil and I could not check into our room for a bit, so we dragged laptops, cameras and other items around with us. We chose to eat at the Mongolian Wok and Off the Grill where food was plenty along the buffet lines. I was impressed with how clean the buffet area was, choosing to do my best to eat healthy via the Mongolian Wok. After lunch we continued our journey to find our friends and tour the ship. Climbing onto the next level, I found the jogging and walking track and mini-golf.

Carnival Fantasy would not depart until 4pm, so we walked around in hopes to stay warm. Of course my husband is always hot natured so he wasn’t cold. We chose to locate our cabin so we could drop off the personal items we were carrying. Trust me, next time we will not pack laptops. Never did we use them, along with cell phones! This was a nice way to ‘unplug’ for a bit.

I changed from boots to my ShapeUps, deciding to find the walking and jogging track. Believe me, it was cold there. The wind rushed thru my hair, freezing my ears, but I was determined to get a few laps in. Meanwhile, Phil is still trying to find our friends — on a cruise ship loaded with guests, staff and a few children.

After my brutally cold walk, Phil continued leaving voice mails to locate our friends. I heard someone whistling in the distance, looked up and finally — our friends approached!

We were scheduled for early dinner at the Jubilee Dining Room. Jubilee Dining Room resembled an upscale restaurant, with the wait staff dressed in black and white, intimate lighting and soft music. While the ship rocked back and forth, ever so relaxing, I ordered chicken breast — the driest chicken breast I have ever eaten. If memory is correct, Phil ordered a steak or maybe it was prime rib. Nevertheless, it was small. When I saw the prime rib, I could not believe my eyes…. The prime rib was the thinnest prime rib I have ever seen – reminding me of a package of thin deli meat.

On the menu, there was a box with several tempting entrees that I do not recall now. Lesson and note to myself – carry your journal everywhere, even when on a vacation. What I do recall is the entrees listed within the box were an additional $20.00!

As a food and travel writer, I know quite a bit about culinary cuisine. The baked potato our friends ordered was overcooked and dry. Carnival Fantasy could do a much better job with their dinner presentations along with serving sizes and culinary skills! The wait staff was amazing. Never did I have to request a refill of water or decaf coffee. I splurged on the chocolate molten cake, served in a small ramekin dish with vanilla ice cream. It was delicious!

After dinner, we relaxed a bit and went to the Cat’s Lounge. Some critics have reported the Cat Lounge is a smoking lounge. Trust me, no one ever smoked in the lounge while we were there. Nor did I smell the dreadful tobacco aroma in the lounge! As the ship continued to rock back and forth, like a slow-moving swing or rocking chair, we relaxed, enjoying the music of most of the karaoke singers. Of course, I sang although on this night we had a new karaoke DJ who catered to one particular singer I reported about yesterday in my blog post. This singer sang four songs before I was able to sing a second song. And in case you were wondering what I drink before finding the courage to sing??? ‘Water with lots of lemon!’ I am one of the rare animals who loves to hop on a stage and take it over!

What songs did I sing? My signature songs — of course:

At Last, Etta James version
Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles version
Unchained Melody, Righteous Brothers

After three songs, I was ready to call it a night, while the ship continued rocking and relaxing me. I do believe this is the most I have relaxed in a long — LONG TIME!

Carnival Fantasy — I hope you change a few things on my next cruise — I am more than certain we will cruise on the Carnival Fantasy again. When? That’s my little secret!

Bon Voyage!

Cruising On The Carnival Fantasy…


Dearest Readers, and Carnival Fantasy:

Yes, it is true. During January 8 – January 13, 2015, my husband and I cruised from Charleston, SC to Freeport and Nassau, Bahamas on a bitterly cold day in Charleston. Just picture it, if you will. Packing for the cruise, I listened to the weather forecast in Charleston and the Bahamas. The forecast for Charleston on the morning we boarded the ship was a whopping — 19 degrees! Yes, you read correctly — 19 degrees with a bitterly cold wind! The forecast for the Bahamas was 72 degrees.

Dressed in a turtle neck with long sleeves, a tunic, a scarf, sweater and leggings, I slipped my gorgeous fake fur coat on, along with mittens. I was certain once I boarded the ship I would change into appropriate resort clothing for the cruise. I did not!

Walking on the ship, I shivered. The ship was so cold. I asked an employee of the cruise line why it was so cold on the ship. He smiled. “Carnival Fantasy does not have heat on board.”

Br-r-r-r! I remained dressed for Alaska, or New England!

Did we enjoy the cruise? Well…let’s just say, Carnival Fantasy chose to change a few things during the cruise.

WHAT CHANGED?

Mainly, the singing competition. Since Carnival Fantasy departs from Charleston, I have several friends who cruise on this ship on a yearly basis. I was told to make certain that I sign up for the singing competition. When I inquired about it at guest services, I was told the singing competition had been cancelled — due to — the FOOTBALL game!

“You mean to tell me that I’ve paid for a cruise where I planned to enter the competition only to watch a football game?”

I should’ve stayed at home! Perhaps that set the mood for me at Carnival Fantasy; however, since this ship departs from Charleston on a regular basis, my husband and I will probably cruise on it again in the future — that is — when it is warm enough to cruise on a ship without heat!

CARNIVAL FANTASY NEEDS TO IMPROVE, OR REMODEL A FEW THINGS…

Such as Cats Lounge where karaoke was held. Cats Lounge is decorated with gigantic Campbell’s Soup Can memorabilia, and the stage consists of a gigantic Goodyear tire — with only a slight step where the performer (excuse me, karaoke singer) must EVER SO CAREFULLY step onto the thin tire edge of the stage. I wore boots, making it a big difficult to step on to the stage. My recommendation for Carnival Fantasy is to modify this stage – considering those who wear high heels and boots. Otherwise, someone will fall – and perhaps get a free cruise — due to injuries!

The sound system on the first night of the cruise was a bit off. Fortunately, an engineer climbed on to the stage to adjust the sound and all was better. Of course, I sang — several songs on the first night. The DJ, Adien, gave me a small Carnival Fantasy trophy. How nice! On the next evening, we had a new DJ. Although he tried to please the entire audience, he appeared to favor one singer – over and over again. Yes, his voice was a good voice, reminding me of Lou Rawls, and I listened with delight while wondering just WHEN I would sing again. This large, a bit disabled guy who entered Cats Lounge on a mobilized scooter, amazed me how he could get on stage! Remember, the stage is not exactly safe, nor is it meeting any ADA [American Disability Act] guidelines. Maybe they are exempt from these guidelines since they are a cruise ship. I confess, each time this man got on the stage I held my breath, and each time I stumbled wearing boots on the stage, I held my breath — since I am a bit clumsy!

I will have more details later about our cruise — along with photographs to share, but for now, I must complete my work out and get busy with this day.

Will I go back to Carnival Fantasy? Probably yes — only this time, I will inquire about the events, along with the cancelled events. PLEASE CARNIVAL FANTASY – don’t cancel an event due to football again. Guests can watch football at home!

My Weight Watchers Saga Continues


Dearest Readers:

Today is T-minus and counting. My weigh in day at Weight Watchers. For once, I actually slept well last night, managing not to awaken for a length of time until 5:00am. I went back to sleep and didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Most unusual for me! Slowly, I managed to get myself dressed and go to my meeting. The question at hand as I drove to the meeting was “Will I use my ‘get out of jail card free’ again, or will I actually step on those scales. Grumbling to myself as I approached the meeting, I reminded myself how discouraged I was. ‘Plateaus are killing me. I am so tired of being on this yo-yo. I’m so tired of not losing. I want to reach goal.’

I opened the door, after several members saw me standing at the door. “OK. Here goes.”

Our leader, Kathy, was at the weigh-in desk. “Great. She’ll see that I’m not losing – AGAIN!” She asked how I was doing. I grumbled. “I’m so sick of not losing,” I said. She closed my booklet, handing it back to me, she said. “Good job!”

I thought she was kidding! Looking at my booklet I realized I had lost 1.4 pounds! Shocked, I jumped off the scales and did a happy dance!

What I’ve learned in the last three years as a member of Weight Watchers is the reality that we all will have set-backs, days…and weeks of discouragement…and the recurring battle of plateaus. Yes, I have lost 35 pounds at Weight Watchers, and during weeks of plateaus and yo-yo’s I remind myself that IF I quit Weight Watchers, no doubt, the weight would pile on again. Gaining weight is not someone I wish to be anymore!

When the meeting started, Kathy, our wonderful, encouraging leader asked if anyone wanted to share their experiences from the last week. Of course, it was me – being the shy, timid, non-opinionated woman that I am – NOT – raised her hand.

“I’ve lost 1.4 pounds this week. A total shock for me…and I have something to add. Last night I had rehearsals for a variety show that I am singing in. After rehearsal, my husband and I decided to stop at Finz, a local restaurant, bar nearby since one of my favorite dj’s, Steve Russell, was playing music, including karaoke. While I do not claim to be a karaoke-style of singer, I do love to sing. We plopped down at one of the tables. Steve asked if I wanted to get this singing party started. Of course I said yes. I have enough confidence now with singing that I never hesitate to start the show. When round two of the rotations began, Steve wanted to know if my outfit was considered shorts. Perhaps I should’ve said, “Yes…but dress shorts.” I did not share that comment. The outfit I was wearing consisted of a slightly short pair of dress shorts I could not wear previously because they were much too little. Last night, they fit nicely.

When Steve called me up to sing, he introduced me with the song, “Who Wears Short Shorts,” and when the music began, I danced around.

Truly a nice night to enjoy friends, and to finally recognize that my body size is changing now! Friends are calling me skinny. Something I shall never be, but it’s nice to receive such encouraging words, especially at an age where some people say, I do not dress age appropriate. Whatever that means!

Yes, it is true. I do not dress like a woman middle-aged, or afraid to show her legs! Dreadful, isn’t it! I suppose I should be ashamed, but I’m not. I love wearing my short skirts and I love my heels…just like the commercials seen on TV – the ones where the woman isn’t revealed, with exception of her rushing high heels, short skirts and legs! When the camera reveals the woman, we realize she isn’t a twenty, or thirty-something woman, but she is one of those gorgeous women who has fought the aging process, and it is paying off!

Yeah…that’s me. Short skirts. Platform, or stiletto heels, boots…and so much more.
Just stay tuned. All to the credit of March 3, 2011. The day I joined Weight Watchers while deciding it was time for me to dance again…to love life again…to be the best I can be! Thank you…Weight Watchers. While I am not at goal yet – I simply say – STAY TUNED! The best is yet to be!

Ah…Home Sweet Home…”At Last…”


So nice to arrive home earlier with my babies awaiting our arrival. Over the weekend Phil and I participated in the Murrells Inlet Elks Lodge show, based on the Charleston Elks Lodge, Back Porch Opera Extravaganza. We had a terrific time last night. Phil served as the sound engineer, dj, and of course, I sang. No, I did not sing “At Last,” my signature song. I chose, “When We Make Love,” Alabama style, adding my one little version, of course.

We drove up on Friday, choosing to go to karaoke on Friday night at Broadway at the Beach. One thing I suggest to the City of Myrtle Beach is to establish a ‘non-smoking ordinance.’ Silly me. I assumed that Myrtle Beach is non-smoking. It is not. The cigarette plumes radiated throughout the bar and I could not wait to leave. Unfortunately, we stayed until midnight. Seems we had a bit of a miscommunication with some friends, hiring a cab driver. Trust me, that will not happen to me again! I will remain the designated driver.

At Broadway at the Beach, I sang “At Last,” and when I was finally called up to sing again, I chose, “Unchained Melody.” By that time, the audience was truly having, shall I say, a grand time…drinking…doing shots…and all that stuff I do not do. Yes, I do drink occasionally, but I absolutely refuse to drink wine from a plastic cup. It doesn’t taste right so I drank water…But, back to my song. When I sang “Unchained Melody,” I connected with the audience, belting the song out as the crowd hushed to listen.

Only a performer understands the euphoric feeling of having the audience relating and listening. I must say, it was fabulous!

To all that drove up to Murrells Inlet for the show, and to perform in the show, I say thank you. I am so proud to be a member of this amazing group of local performers from the Charleston, SC Elks Lodge.

And now, I must get back to work…to feed my children and to share with them how much I’ve missed them. This will be an early night. I am much too tired…At Last I am home…Home Sweet Home!

 

Welcome to Hawaii – Day Five and Beyond – Hawaii Is Like A Dream Come True!


Monday, August 20, 2012 – Sorry for the delay in sharing my astonishing dreams about Hawaii. I’ve been just a bit busy lately with several assignments to do, rehearsals for a show at the Charleston Elks Lodge, more assignments – unexpected, but so welcome, and of course, getting all the photographs I took of Hawaii printed. I had over 503++ photographs to print and I must say, my new camera certainly performed well. When Phil looked at some of the photographs, he actually complimented my photography skills. How nice!

Additional events that have kept me busy lately:

A few weeks ago I was selected as a ‘qualifier’ for the Lowcountry Karaoke Idol Contest in Charleston. For this part of the competition I sang, “At Last.” The club finals for Manhattan’s Bar & Grill were Friday, August 17, 2012. I’ve practiced my song [“I Who Have Nothing”] to make certain I knew it and could hit the notes. Piece of cake! Tom Jones is one of my favorites and I sing his songs all the time! At the competition, I was as calm as a cucumber, but I did check out the competition! Four guys, three girls will compete, and I knew one of them! I was a bit concerned because she and I are great friends and I will do nothing to jeopardize our friendship! After all, great friends (especially women!) are so hard to find. The clock was ticking…10pm and the competition begins! I listened and watched the singers, paying attention to see if they were getting into the performance. Many of them looked at the monitor – silly, don’t you know you are SUPPOSED to lose points IF you look at the monitor! Several singers were not too bad! Finally, my name was called. I grabbed the microphone, and turned away from the monitor! I confess, when I’m singing, it is a performance and I am totally focused on what I am doing. I did not notice if I had the attention of the crowd or not. I just belted out my tune, moving and grooving with the audience. Much to my surprise, I was selected for second place. The score was 66-64 and if the first place finalist is unable to represent Manhattan’s for the City Finals, then I will perform. C’est la vie! Story of my life! I suppose second place isn’t too bad – after all, it’s karaoke – except I love performing!!!

An additional surprise occurred while jet lag was refusing to leave me. Early one morning, I checked e-mail, receiving an invitation to attend a press trip to Aruba. I read the itinerary and invitation well, letting it rest on my desk while I debated about it. The press trip was less than two weeks away. Not enough time for me to query publications about story ideas. Since I’ve never been to Aruba, I declined the invitation, requesting a rain check. My rule is to at least have query letters out to publications before attending a trip. Gosh, how I wanted to go!

BACK TO HAWAII

Waikiki Beach

Today, our discussions will include additional events on Phil’s birthday – July 8, 2012 — evening events, walking to International Market Place, along with the characters we met, the street performers, and other interesting characters.

We had a nice day traveling around Honolulu, admiring the breathtaking beauty and views, the coastal highway, searching for whales, which we never found, and the amazement of Blow Hole. How I wanted to sneak a rock, shell, or something unique that I could stash in my suitcase, but I was fearful that I would get caught, so when I found something, I simply let it slip through my hands. No lava rocks to take home. No sea shells. Nothing from within the lava foundations, the sea, or within the depth of the ocean. After all, I remember that silly form I signed before departing the American Airlines plane to enter beautiful Hawaii. I suppose I am just a bit too honest for my own good. If someone asked me if I am carrying something I shouldn’t, my eyes would give me away. I suppose I will never be a good liar! Besides, according to some of the legends of Hawaii, if you remove a lava rock, you are destined for bad luck – and I’ve had more than my share of bad life in my lifetime!

Breathtaking View along the Coastal Highways

Lava rocks and the mountains are truly amazing to look at while riding along the coast. To the left, your eyes admire the unique shape of the mountains. To the right, your eyes stare at the glittering iridescent blue ocean, the white caps slapping gently on the beaches and coastline. While I’ve always had an incredible passion for oceans, nothing compares or equals the turquoise waters I admire as we travel along the coast. I pinch myself. Please God, if I’m dreaming, never let this dream end.

A few hours later we head back to the hotel. We are tired now, ready to relax and walk along Kalakaua Avenue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyyHaVPWj0k  The sun is setting now as we walk. I am amazed at the wide sidewalks on Waikiki Beach. There are hundreds of people walking, but no one bumps into Phil or me and no one has a cell phone glued to their ears. In Charleston, people appear not to be able to walk unless a cell phone dangles from their ears, and they shout their supposedly private conversations into their phones, so the entire world can hear the latest one-sided gossip. Who cares!

INTERNATIONAL MARKET PLACE

International Market Place is only a three block walk from our hotel. Dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian print shirt, with my Shape-Ups on my feet, I am ready for the business of shopping. I admit it. I hate shopping. Rarely do I find anything I want and I am a bargain hunter. Working in retail establishments for many years, I know how much items are marked up for profit, so I tell myself to look for bargains, or appear not to love an item too much. I want to barter!

While walking I notice the designer shops. Many of them I’ve never heard of. I live on a budget so these shops look wonderful and oh so tempting, but I would probably be flabbergasted by the price tags. I choose not to go inside.

We approach the entrance of International Market Place. Merchants are everywhere. Pleasant to the shoppers, the culture of Hawaii has taught the merchants how to charm and approach them. They nod their heads to everyone, speaking to a few, probably in hopes of making a big sale. I stop at several jewelry booths. OK, I admit it…I am a jewelry fanatic! I admire the coral, shells, the beautiful lei’s. All the jewelry is so beautiful. I honestly do not know where to start!

International Market Place has changed dramatically since I visited it during our R&R. There are many specialty shops now. No matter what you are looking for in Hawaii, you will find it along Kalakaua Avenue. One thing to remember is to ask for a better price at the Market Place. Almost every merchant I approached was willing to negotiate with me. There was one shop where the shopkeeper said, “If you don’t like that price on the sticker, you will not find a better price around Kalakaua Avenue.” I left her shop without purchasing anything.

I can truly say, International Market Place is one of my favorite places to shop, because I can negotiate. After all, my trip to Hawaii was planned in less than twenty-four hours and I had no time to get to the bank for additional funds. Thank goodness. I could’ve spent a small fortune.

A wood carving artist at International Market Place

Headed back to Hyatt Regency Waikiki, the street vendors and entertainers are out. I snap a few shots of an Elvis wanna be, a man dressed in newspaper, another guy dressed in gold lame, and an interesting floral archway where a woman was inside with only her beautiful face exposed.

Only one of the many interesting street performers in Honolulu

By now the streets are filled with pedestrians. Much to my surprise, everyone moves without pushing or shoving, and everyone uses crosswalks. While we walked across the street onto an area filled with additional hotels, we stop at a park, pet a dog and decide we will cross the street in the middle of the roadway. A police officer sees us standing along the middle of the sidewalk. I reach for Phil’s hand as cars rush by. I have a phobia of crossing busy streets, reminding Phil he must hold my hand tightly if we cross here. [I was hit by a drunk driver when I was nine-years-old, suffering a severe concussion.] I’ve never been able to cross busy streets without shaking since then.

The police officer has stopped, watching us. “That’s not a cross walk,” he shouts in our direction. I jerk my hand from Phil. “We can’t cross here. There must be a cross walk somewhere.”

We thank the police officer and move towards the traffic light. After we cross, the police officer nods to us. No doubt he was ready and waiting to give us a jaywalking ticket, but we followed his advice. After all, I really did not want to spend a night in the jail! Can you imagine – Phil and I arrested for jaywalking and spending the night in a jail? How dreadful!

After we get back to the hotel, we hop in the car headed to Ala Moana Shopping Center.

ALA MOANA SHOPPING CENTER

Years ago, we spent lots of money at Ala Moana Shopping Center. We were so young and carefree and our time in Hawaii was ticking away quickly. In two days, he would catch a flight back to Vietnam. When a lovely lady at the hotel we stayed at suggested shopping at Ala Moana, we spent a day there, looking at shops, admiring all the merchandise. Phil found a double-breasted jacket [yes, they were the style back then]. I took him inside, and we bought it. I didn’t care if he didn’t get to wear it very much. He wanted it. Money wasn’t an object. I wanted his memories of our first trip to Hawaii – our honeymoon – to be something to remember!

Now, Ala Moana Shopping Center is filled with all sorts of specialty shops and restaurants. Many of these shops are designer shops. If you are looking for something unique and special, Ala Moana is the place to find it! http://www.alamoanacenter.com/Center-Information/Hours-Directions.aspx I found three pairs of shoes. Just how I would get them home was a concern, but I could not pass them up! Shoes are my weakness!

Exhausted from a full day, we decided to dine at Blazin Steaks http://www.blazinwaikiki.com/ After dinner, we rush back to our room to watch a movie. My time in Hawaii is slowly ticking away and I am so sad to see it ending. Please, if I am dreaming, Never let me awaken from this dream!

Aloha!

Lowcountry Karaoke Idol Contest


Today is such a beautiful day within the lowcountry of Charleston, SC. A day to appreciate life along with all the blessings that arrive with each passing day. Lately, I’ve been stuck in a tsunami of grief and depression, unable to laugh, smile, or simply be the person I was before grief overtook me when I lost my precious Prince Marmaduke Shamus. This week, my friends have worked hard to get me out of my depression. Last night, we decided to go to Manhattan’s Bar & Grill in Mt. Pleasant to do karaoke. Karaoke is a regular Friday night date for all of us, but last night everyone encouraged me to enter the Lowcountry Karaoke Idol Contest. One of my best friends, Betty, encouraged me to enter on Wednesday night, suggesting that I should sing, “At Last.”

So, when we arrived at Manhattan’s, Betty, Mac and I decided to enter — just to see what would happen. None of us anticipated doing well, but we knew we would compete by giving our all. We introduced ourselves to the deejay, Will, inquiring about the rules. Sounds simple enough. You must sing a tune you are familiar with. If your eyes glance at the monitor, points will be taken away. No problem. Betty was still a bit apprehensive, but I was raring to go. Ok…I admit it…I love being on stage!

At 10:30, the competition began. Six contestants had signed up for the competition. Betty’s name was drawn as contestant #1. She belted out “Blue”, hitting those high notes like she always does, doing a great job. Mac, was the great performer, singing his song (sorry, I always forget the name of it) getting the crowd involved while he sang a sad country song about lost love. He does these songs so well, especially the George Jones tunes. Contestant number five was called up — “Barbie.” Finally, I thought, by now I wanted to just get up there and sing and get it over with.

I grabbed the wireless microphone and walked away from the monitor. I did not want to lose any points by looking at it, besides — I know the lyrics of “At Last,” without even thinking about the song.

To make a long story short — when the judges results were revealed, there was a tie. I heard my name. Shocked! This can’t be! Never have I been a finalist in ANY talent show.

Sorry, I can’t recall the guy’s name who was involved with a tie with me, but we had to turn in another song to compete against each other. My husband and friends suggested I sing, “Sweet Nothings,” an old tune recorded originally by Brenda Lee. When my name was called, I reached for the wireless mic — “Uh huh. Honey…All right…”

Working the audience, I sang to complete strangers, getting them involved…rocking and rolling…and dancing…never thinking about the lyrics while recognizing I probably didn’t stand one chance to be selected as the finalist. After all, the crowd at Manhattan’s consist of the younger in crowd. The judges were much younger than I, and I imagined they would select someone who attends the bar as a “regular,” not some wild and crazy woman who hasn’t been to Manhattan’s since before Shamus died.

After the judges turned in the results, my name was called. I couldn’t believe it. Me!???! All of my friends squealed with delight.

For me, I don’t think the reality has kicked in yet. Trapped inside my youth, when I found the nerve to enter a talent show, never did I win, or become a finalist. I simply walked off the stage while thinking to myself, Oh well…Mama said I would never win.
What comes next? Who knows. I will sift through all of my songs while asking friends at the Elks Lodge and my closest friends what songs I should have ready for the finals. According to Will, the deejay, I will be contacted either by phone or e-mail about the finals.  For me, it is still surreal. Perhaps some might think “You had to know you’d be a finalist,” but I did not. I simply entered just to see what would happen.
My childhood dream was to become a singer. Married at 17, I confess, I never found the courage to even try, until now — at a time of life that some refer to as the ‘golden or retirement years.’ I certainly do not describe myself as ‘golden’ or ‘retirement’ — more like a wild and crazy rock star woman who refuses to get old, or to act it. Age is only a state of mind, and I intend to rock my way now, as a singer.
Suppose I’ll have more to write about later, and I do not anticipate winning. Charleston has lots of talented singers!